Reunited: Fop till you drop

September 3, 2004

Laurence Llewellyn Bowen studied fine art at Camberwell College of Arts before starring in Changing Rooms .

One of the things that really struck me when I went back to Camberwell was how well dressed arts students are these days.

They all looked very grown up and sophisticated - especially the girls. In my day, in the early 1980s, you were either a New Romantic or a scruff-bucket and the scruff-buckets outnumbered the New Romantics by quite a large margin.

I was never a scruff-bucket, although in the later stages of my New Romanticism I did develop a penchant for tweed.

There was also a strong feeling of grown-upness and professionalism - even, surprisingly, in the fine art school. When I was there, the concept of art being anything other than a personal, solitary, Michelangeloesque pursuit was unthinkable. You got cut off for even thinking about money, let alone marketing. Now, there is a lot of encouragement for fine arts students to see themselves as small-businesspeople and think in terms of how cultural and creative activities could be used to support a career. I think that's essential. I was so impressed.

There is a real dialogue between the college, students and business.

Without patronage or without a market, art becomes pointless. The point of art is to communicate something to as many people as possible. If that communication becomes too arcane or personal or frightening, it stops it being legible.

I had a sell-out degree show, which was excellent, although it was seen as rather vulgar by the college. I also got a couple of gallery contracts and it was my choice not to go through with them but to get jobs in marketing.

I have always been very keen to promote the idea that art is a creative business. It shouldn't be hijacked by the emotional stereotypes of artists starving in garrets.

When I went back, the decor was one of the fantastically unchanging elements of the college. Everything is painted in a rather malodorous white. I remember that happening every year to remove any leftover reminders of that year's students. It was like washing down a large operating table after an autopsy.

For students, the programmes I do and my personality have a slightly kitsch feel. They were terribly friendly and a bit teasing, which was nice. I found everyone very affable and easy to speak to. Because I'm not going in on a great big crest of importance it was a very familiar little experience. Students were happy to speak in quite practical terms about what they were doing. There was a lot of cant when I was at college; I feel very much that it is more straightforward now.

I bumped into someone who was there with me and she said: "You haven't changed a bit." I think I was as annoying then as I am now - and just as foppish - which must have made my tutors' lives difficult.

I painted great Hollywood-poster style large ladies in Arcadian landscapes -gigantic nymphs. It was very trendy at that time - Adam Ant bought one - although a bit presumptuous for the college, and the feminist group hated them.

Even my college paintings are changing hands for a few thousand now. Every so often we get cheques through, which is very nice. They pay for repapering the hall.

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